Good Works - What Are They?

Works in the Bible are not what we typically think they are.

How many times have we heard that the Christian must do works to show they are saved? The subject of "works" as presented in the Bible is not what most people think they are. First off, a believer in Christ can not "produce" any good works in of themselves.

Now, let us talk about what good "works" really are as it relates to the Bible. The whole Christian world (that is all the religious folks), and even many of us that believe in total Grace have been brainwashed into thinking good works are something they are not. First off, Jesus explained what the "work" of God is and is a key foundational starting point. Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." (John 6:29) By the way, the word work here in John 6:29 of Scripture as defined in the Greek language is really like a job function (meaning: business or employment) here. Obviously we could discuss the verses before and after this one, but I really want to delve into more areas of works as presented in the Bible.

So, let's really move on to the verse that worker bees say must be done by folks in order to show "proof" they are saved and really look at the context of a particular verse in the Bible. Before we look at the context, think how many times this following verse is quoted without any context whatsoever.

"Faith Without Works Is Dead" By the way, that really isn't the actual verse in the Bible, even though we hear it this way all the time. That is an added heading in the Book of James 2:14-26 section which is not found in the original language for this actual verse of Scripture:

James 2:17 KJV
"Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone."

James 2:17 NIV
"In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."

Now the context of this is explained previously, that if someone (not any someone but a brother or sister - is more than likely referring to that of the Jewish brethren, because this was written to Jews that were coming out of the Mosaic law) is naked and destitute of daily food, and the person that sees this person simply gives them a lip service blessing without helping them, then how in the world is that type of faith going to save the other person? That is no work at all. The so called “faith” itself is dead indeed. It is important to understand the entire context of the book of James, in that the Jewish believers of the first century were being shunned and kicked out of their jobs for helping their fellow Christians. That was why this book was written the way it is written, to the Jewish believers."James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting." (James 1:1) These Jews that declared they were believers in Christ Jesus had a lot on the line. They were in fear of going homeless themselves and losing everything. Most folks today do not appreciate the gravity of the situation. We don’t really experience that same persecution here in America or most of the western world. However, Christians within other countries certainly do face all types of trials and persecutions, even unto death, but not typically anywhere in America does that happen.

Now we really get to the crux of the matter. The works examples in the book of James are not considered good works from most people’s understanding.

An example was of Rahab the Harlot hiding the Israelite spies, helping them escape and even lying to the government officials of Jericho about where the spies went. Then we see the city was destroyed by God. No matter how you mix it, what Rahab did would not seem to be a “work” of righteousness from the standpoint of religionists and the world. Obviously Rahab believed God and she did the right thing as it pertains to God, but it would certainly have been the wrong thing from the standpoint of “obeying your government” or “don’t tell any lies” which by the way is a breaking of one of the Commandments of God too. Read the entire story of Rahab in the book of Joshua, chapter #2.

Another example was of Abraham, who believed God when he was going to go through with sacrificing his only son when God asked him to. Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness that God would raise his one and only son from the dead. From the outside world, most would say, how awful God was to even suggest that. But, Abraham listened and obeyed God at every step of the way, even when God said “don’t kill your son,” Abraham obeyed. Read this entire story of Abraham in Genesis, chapter #22.

My point in all of this is, works are doing the right thing as it pertains to God in life's circumstances, in spite of the consequences that we might face from others in response to an action. Works are not something we go out of our way to do during the Christmas and Thanksgiving seasons of helping out at the local food banks, but as the circumstances of life come upon us, there will be periods of testing our faith. For example, there will likely come a time, when we will be confronted with error, and we can either be quiet, or speak, the "WORK" of God, and do the right thing by representing God the right way at that moment in time in spite of where the chips may fall. Religion today has run rampant over lives, has beat people down and placed heavy burdens on them. For those of us that have the Holy Spirit alive living in us, we need to consider carefully, are we willing to allow God do the work in and through us and do the right thing? We may not have to hide spies in our country (yet), but we should be available for his work through and in us to say and do the right thing (even if it means we may lose our so called friends). I continue to pray that He would do that that through me.

As far as works and doing the right thing, I am referring to this as in a response to God. Doing the right thing from a human perspective may actually be a sin from God's perspective, if the motive was a human perspective to do work of, puffing ourselves up for ourselves or even pride of ourselves (making ourselves feel good), or for others (to show the good works a person is doing toward others) or for showing off to God are prime examples of doing the right thing for the wrong reason; pride. These actions would be sin in the eyes of God.

The issue of performance works comes from the world of religion, the lost and the proud. They read the verses in Scripture and say, "see, God has destined us for good works" (Ephesians 2:10) or "faith without works is dead" (James). So with the proud, they will go out in the energy of their flesh (because that is all anyone has if a person is not saved and does not have the Holy Spirit living in them) and will attempt to do good works. In these folks, good works are occurring whenever they think they are doing some good deed based on their own understanding of good and evil. They even think "their" good works cancels out their bad works and that God is so pleased with them when they do "their" good works.

Jesus warned false prophets:

"Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’" Matthew 7: 22,23

Let's look in more detail at the following verses: James 2:14-17

Consider the following points. The Bible was written with NO punctuation, and had no capitalization to begin with in the original written text.  ("The original languages of the Bible had no punctuation, things such as commas, periods, semi-colons, etc.")

So, with that in mind, let's look at the book of James and the key chapter and paragraph as it is written in the KJV. I'm using the KJV here to simply show a clear picture, because I think many of the modern translation versions are somewhat skewed toward trying to show justification by works. I don't believe this is justification at all in this section. I think the verses are simply saying it doesn't help the folks that need to be helped. Let's look again at it in context:

What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

I​'m not sure that the verse numbers and the question marks, periods and sentence breaks are in the correct places.

So, let's read it another way and change the punctuation (no word changes have been made, just the punctuation has been slightly changed):
​What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works?

​Can faith save him​ ​​if a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, ​and one of you say unto them, ​"​Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled;​"​ notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

​Faith here was dead and useless for the brother or sister that was naked and destitute. Simply saying to these folks "depart in peace" was a type of blessing. What good did that blessing do for them?

My Answer: Nothing.

We can see that this way the meaning of the works/faith equation being used as an example in showing that the faith of certain individuals that simply offered a blessing to the others did not save the people that needed food and shelter. The faith that was displayed by lip service was useless to those that needed help in their time of need.

------------ Side Bar Note: 1 Beginning------------

A side bar note here to consider. A friend believes that James and Paul did not actually teach the same in regards to justification. As he correctly points out, James was probably the first book of the New Testament Bible and was written to the Jewish Christians. Also see this reference ( in regards to when the book of James was written. These early believers had just come out of the sacrificial system, and they were still mixing Law with Grace together big time. In fact, as my friend points out, certain men came from the James' congregation to give Paul a hard time and eventually to set the record straight with Peter and Paul (that is, Jews should not associate themselves with Gentiles). Peter pulls back from association with the Gentiles because Peter was scared of this group from James. Yet Paul confronted Peter to his face about this and rebuked him.

"When Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group." Galatians 2:11,12

Then we see in a later section of Acts where James and Paul eventually get on the same page as far as justification is concerned. Jews and Gentiles were saved the same way. One group did not have to do more work to earn it. Both James and Peter, having been swayed by the men from James, had been wrong to say and do what they were doing prior to this agreement. The book of Acts records the historical record on this.

Acts 15:11 "No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

I also find it interesting how James in his book seems to overlook the Old testament time period and what Moses said of Abram and what God declared of Abram in Gen. 15:6 "Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness." So, James ignores "belief" here and makes a jump of 13 to 35 years later, when he would have been actually sacrificing his son, and this was before Abram even had a son, and then James makes a statement of the actual sacrificing act as being what justifies. Expanding on that thought a bit more is a key point. For example, are we to assume that the mention of Abram being credited to him as righteousness in Genesis was a 13 to 35 year waiting period before it ever was consummated? Are we calling God a liar in Genesis? No, the verse in Genesis 15:6 is crystal clear, "belief" in what God had declared was key.

------------ Side Bar Note: 1 Ending------------

So, what are works today?

From what I have witnessed first hand, the Christian church has no clue what a work of God really is today. Even if we were to take James' writings, of how he used Abraham and Rahab as examples of works, it is not in the context of what most think works would be or to be performed today. One was told to kill his only son by God and the other lied to government authorities and committed treason by helping the spies based on a snapshot in time of each of those individual's understanding of God and what God was doing in their own lives. Most folks that are lost (and I suspect even many of those that are saved) don't have a clue about these works, actually being works of faith are in the first place. Most Bible teachers do not really dive into the aspects of what constitutes being a work in the examples given in Scripture.

Paul on the other hand does talk about faith expressing itself through Love. Galatians 5:6

If we were to extrapolate out the works ideas being taught by James, and let's just say for example that the work would actually be belief [which should not be a novel idea] as presented by Jesus (see: John 6:29) and further talked about by Paul in his writings, then the idea would be that faith would express itself in Love and what Jesus did on the cross for the person that believes. What I mean by that is that a person that believes Jesus forgave them of their sins would ultimately come to the realization that there was no more sacrifice for sins required. Their sins have been completely forgiven on the cross. Would not this be the work of Love in their lives? Would not this work of Love also be manifest in sharing that Love with others? Obviously that Love is not the person doing the work, but the Holy Spirit doing the work in and through people. When we have a heartfelt Love for others (not wanting them to perish - just as God does not want that either), do we not have the same mind as God? In essence, did he not give us a new heart that is indwelt by the Holy Spirit to perform the work of Love to others? Is not God's Love an active Love based to begin with because of his love for us, when Jesus was sacrificed on the cross for us? Is not his love flowing through believers an active love today? Is not this the work of Love?

Even in the book of Hebrews, in the Faith chapter, we see faith actions based on happenings at certain points in time with the heroes of the faith:

Hebrews 11

In essence each of the people mentioned in the faith chapter did something in response to faith and in response to God's work in their lives. Some even died for their faith.

So, that brings me back to today. If a person hears that their sins are forgiven, they say they believe it, yet they keep going back to the confession booth of constantly asking for forgiveness of their sins from God (either, as a virtual confession booth for the Protestant or actual confession booth as in a Catholic to a priest), then how good is their faith? They have a dead useless faith as far as I am concerned. God is looking at whether they believed or not, but their faith isn't flowing with any Love through them toward others.

What kind of faith is it to say to someone clean up their sins (repent of all of their sins) before God will forgive them of their sins? What kind of faith is it to say to others that Jesus forgave you of all of your sins, past, present and future; now ask God to forgive you of your sins again? What kind of faith is it to say one believes Jesus forgave them of their sins and then continue on in the Catholic church for salvation, and following all the rules and regulations of the CC. What kind of faith is it to say Jesus gives you eternal life when you believe, yet he will take it away if you don't perform? What kind of faith is it to preach that a person is saved when they believe in Jesus, yet they are not really saved unless they have these undefined works that are all over the board in their own minds? All of this will have an appearance of goodness but will be lacking in any usefulness; which is "having a form of godliness but denying its power." 2 Timothy 3:5

My point is, most that teach works today are not teaching the work of Love of Jesus toward others. These same folks that teach some form of works for salvation, or works for being sustained in salvation, are teaching the lie of the devil. They are teaching a dead useless faith. This is not an active faith of Love at all. These same folks can not even tell you what works they must do to be saved (see: Acts 16:30). They stumble over Jesus and do not exercise faith in Him (see: Romans 9:32). They place more faith in themselves and what they are doing than they do in God's finished work on the cross.

So, what is the work of Love?

Jesus did say, "Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father." John 14:12

The works of Love of Jesus, is in and through the believer, to share the good news of Jesus, the ETERNAL LIFE giver, to everyone who believes. What greater work could there be?

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1 comment:

  1. OMG I so love Bob George this is a double whammy for me tonight.


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